Charlotte Josephine’s new play, Pops, hits you like a train. It’s a poleaxing, two-handed depiction of a dysfunctional father-daughter relationship, driven by a taut emotional logic and featuring two brilliant, bruising performances from Sophie Melville and Nigel Barrett.
Josephine doesn’t give you a lot to go on. Throughout the hour, it’s more about what’s not said than what is. A woman arrives back at her father’s house. She’s broken and trying to put herself back together at “meetings”. He’s broken and can’t be bothered, preferring to sit in front of Come Dine With Me all day, listening to Ray Charles cassettes, and drink.
In a series of glitchy, half-formed, and restless scenes, Josephine sketches out a relationship on the rocks. When dad and daughter talk, their conversation is stilted and stuck, apart from one exquisitely tender scene over a conciliatory cup of tea. “Fuck the Tories,” sighs Barrett. “Fuck the Tories,” nods Melville.
Ali Pidsley’s direction is rich with symbolism – the relentless Ray Charles soundtrack works as an effective metaphor for alcoholism – and moves deftly from static scenes to movement sequences. Both Melville and Barrett are superb, suggesting a sea of repressed feeling with hollow hellos, bitter laughs and dead, doughy eyes. It’s a devastatingly downbeat hour.